Cayman healthcare officials discuss Ebola preparedness

Health workers in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, wear protective gear at an Ebola treatment centre on 16 July. The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak an international emergency after cases of the disease occurred in eastern Congo’s biggest city, Goma. - Photo: AP

Cayman’s healthcare professionals have met several times to assess Cayman’s preparedness for dealing with cases of Ebola, after the World Health Organization last month declared the recent outbreak of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo a “public health emergency of international concern”.

Officials reviewed and updated plans for dealing with epidemic diseases and discussed those plans with the border control agency, according to a statement from Public Health Department.

While the Caribbean Public Health Agency considers the risk of Ebola to the Caribbean to be “extremely low” at this time, local healthcare professionals say they have held “precautionary” meetings.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said in a statement that recognising the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern allows for intensified and coordinated international action to manage the threat by releasing funds and resources.

There have been sporadic outbreaks of Ebola in Africa since the 1970s. It is likely that the virus is animal-borne, with bats and primates being the suspected carriers of the virus.

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The disease is spread by direct contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person or animal, as well as direct contact with clothes, bedding, needles and syringes of a person who is sick or who has died from Ebola. Ebola cannot spread to others when a person has no symptoms or signs of the disease.

Although there is no licensed vaccination available to date, trials of vaccines are showing a good deal of promise, the Public Health Department said in the press release.

The World Health Organization advises that currently no country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel and trade. There is also no requirement for countries outside of the affected areas to screen passengers arriving at airports or other ports of entry.

West African countries saw more than 28,000 cases of Ebola and 11,325 deaths from the disease between 2014 to 2016. In response to fears the disease could spread globally, the Cayman Islands government at the time approved the use of up to $3 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to fight a potential outbreak in Cayman.

The funds would have covered the staffing of an in-patient facility at the public hospital with nurses and doctors and an eight-bed field hospital, which would have been located in the hospital staff parking lot. Because the threat did not materialise, only $32,300 of the budgeted funds were spent.

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